The pursuit of community.

For a long time, my friendships were relationships in which the other person pursued me first. If they liked me enough to pursue me, we could be friends. This wasn’t because I saw myself as some great prize, but because I am basically, in many ways, a shy person, and also because I struggled/still struggle with a lot of insecurities which make it hard for me to put myself out there and face (soul-crushing) rejection. For many years, I have seen myself as much lower on the social ladder than most other people, and I wouldn’t want to presume to be on their level, so I have to let them be the ones to make the first move. It’s something I’ve been working on, but I’m never going to be as welcoming and gregarious as many people are, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to pursue other people without worrying at all about rejection.

This is, I think, the reason that one relationship never took off. I have been told that I share a lot of interests with this woman, and that we would get along. When we have been places together, I tried to make a bit of conversation, but when she didn’t seem engaged, I let it go, afraid of either being a bother or of putting myself out there and being rebuffed. So, what I am wondering is whether she is also the type that likes to be pursued and I quit too soon, or whether she simply wasn’t interested. And if she wasn’t interested, why do I care so much? Why does it hurt me?

In thinking about this, I articulated to Mike that I think I have wasted a lot of time worrying about being included by people who don’t really care about me. I have, in the past, thought a lot about “inner circles” and how I might find myself in one. I probably hurt people by being so focused on the people who were “above” me instead of cultivating the relationships that were already around me. I know I hurt myself, selling myself short by desiring relationships with people who weren’t interested in me just so I could be cooler by association.

It’s better these days, partly because I am more comfortable with who I am and partly because social circles change. I guess that’s something I’d like to say to my former self: “Yes, you will come to a place where you are able to let people like you for who you are instead of feeling the need to perform for them.” But it’s something I need to say to my current self, too, since thinking about some of that rejection can still bring me to tears.

This is a tangentially related thought, but, in thinking of old relationships, it’s come up as well. I have wondered lately about forgiveness in terms of letting people change. If someone behaved inappropriately, made me extremely uncomfortable, and hurt a lot of people around me, what is my obligation now, years later, when that person appears to have changed? I say I believe in a God who brings about change, I believe that, through God’s grace, I have changed, but I don’t know what it looks like to believe that for someone else. Can I believe that this man, a commitment-phobe, has finally settled down? Can this womanizer really change his spots and have healthy relationships with women? Has this woman actually learned that other people have valid perspectives?

I guess all of this is tied up together in my mind because being an open and welcoming person in general probably means being open and welcome in other ways, too – second and third and fourth chances, things that are hard for me. This Lenten season, I have, quite unintentionally, been reading and thinking and praying a lot about community and relationships. I hope that reflecting on the ways that I have changed and grown will help me allow others that same space to have learned from their mistakes.

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